My Product Strategy for 2021

I used the previous week primarily to reflect on my Bootstrap MBA progress and my most important conclusion is that things went far too smoothly so far. While this seems like a good thing, it’s a clear sign that I haven’t taken enough risks and played it too safe.

I first noticed this when Jon Hainstock recently asked me:

“What’s been some of the highlights and the lowlights in the last few months?”

and I answered:

“Uhm… there were only highlights, no lowlights. I just tried to think of anything, but really there wasn’t anything so far.”

(You can listen to this conversation here.)

Moreover, while I’ve had some success with my projects, they’re all pretty small and certainly not very ambitious. It’s nice that I’ve seen some early traction, but how do I reach the next level now?

What exactly do I do now?

In short: I’ll try to leverage my most promising projects into something much bigger, while simultaneously I’ll continue to launch small experiments whenever I spot an opportunity.

Okay, admittedly that seems pretty obvious and maybe a bit vague. And at first, it was just a vague idea. But now after a few days of thinking I feel like I have a pretty solid strategy.

Let’s start by taking stock.

Where am I? And where’s my snowmobile?

In the past few months, I started several projects.

If you’re now thinking “that’s a completely wild mix” you’re right. It is.

But luckily, at the height of my confusion, I fell into  John Boyd rabbit hole.

One of his famous thought experiments goes as follows:

“Imagine that you are in Florida riding in an outboard motor boat, maybe even towing water skiers. Imagine that you are riding a bicycle on a nice spring day. Imagine that you are a parent taking your son to a department store and that you notice he is fascinated by the toy tractors or tanks with rubber caterpillar treads.Now imagine that you pull the skies off but you are still on the ski slope. Imagine also that you remove the outboard motor from the motor boat, and you are no longer in Florida. And from the bicycle you remove the handlebar and discard the rest of the bike. Finally, you take off the rubber treads from the toy tractor or tanks; this leaves only the following separate pieces: skis, outboard motor, handle bars and rubber treads.What emerges when you pull all this together? A snowmobile!A winner, is someone who can build snowmobiles.

When I read this a light bulb went up over my head.

Of course, instead of skis, outboard motor, handle bars and rubber treads, I have all these projects. But the question is the same: what’s my snowmobile?

The Strategy

The question I started with was: Why do people buy my products?

I honestly hadn’t thought about that before. And I’ve never asked my customer.

But the answer is essential. Only if I understand what my customers need, I can provide more value.

That sounds pretty abstract, so let’s consider an example.

Product Explorer offers comprehensive data on Product Hunt launches, Show HN posts, Shopify apps, Wordpress plugins, Chrome extensions, and Indie Hacker products.

Now there’s a lot you can do with this data.  For example:

  • Some customers might want to use the data to find founders who recently launched something to pitch, say, their agency’s services.
  • Other’s might be interested in best practices. What tagline is doing well on Product Hunt and HN? When do you need to publish your post to have the highest success chances?
  • There are, of course, also people who are interested in general market insights. Are there trends? What kind of products are getting a lot of attention currently?
  • A fourth type of customer might be interested in finding apps and sites that are no longer actively maintained and hence can be acquired cheaply.
  • Another use case is people looking for product ideas. Are there gaps in the market? What are products with low ratings that lots of people use?

While the Product Explorer datasets can be used this way, they are far from optimized for any particular use case.

For example, customers who are interested in leads would get a lot more out of my data if I would provide the email addresses of all product owners.

Or for customers who are looking for best practices or market insights, specific analysis would be much more valuable than just a data dump.

Now why is this worth thinking about?

While Product Explorer is doing okay and currently brings in around $1,000 MRR, most users just want to look at the data once and cancel their subscription during the first month.

So far, no one has complained about the quality of the data. Instead, for many customers there’s simply no good enough reason to stay subscribed.

However, I’m convinced that if I would tailor my offering to specific use cases I could not only charge more but also reduce churn dramatically.

And this brings us back to my snowmobile.

Looking at my product portfolio it’s obvious that so far, I’ve focused on stuff where I had the vague feeling that it might be useful to some people. But I completely ignored thinking deeply about what use case exactly I want to focus on.

Analogously skis, outboard motor, handle bars and rubber treads are all things that can be useful. But the real opportunity is in putting them together to provide the best possible solution for a specific use case.

So it’s time to dissemble my products and build a snowmobile. Or even better, let’s build snowmobiles.

That’s my strategy for the coming months. Starting from the list of possible use-cases listed above and my existing products, I’ll build tailor-made solutions that provide 10x the value compared to just some database.

What makes me so confident that this is the right strategy is that when I did some research on related products and I found that data products that are built around a specific use case (Clearbit, Mattermark, SpreadTheWorld…)  often do spectacularly well, while general purpose datasets (Crowdfunded, Gum Spy, …) usually struggle to find customers.

With that said, I should admit that I haven’t figured out all the details yet.

After all, I’m still at the strategy stage and strategy is all about doing the right thing whereas management is about doing things right.

I’ll probably start by focusing on the “fourth type of customer” mentioned above (abandoned asset acquisitions), and I’ll definitely keep you updated!

Written on January 20, 2021
P.S. I'm now on Twitter too if you'd like to follow my adventures. Alternatively you can enter your email address below and I will send you occasionally a short email whenever I publish something new.